I’m Not on a Diet, but I’m Losing Weight (and getting healthier!)

October 2014

October 2014 On-site work

 

Here’s why I’m not on a diet, yet I’m losing weight and reaching my health and fitness goals. When we go “on a diet” it implies we are doing something temporarily and that once we reach the destination (that magic number on the scale, typically) we can “get off” the diet and resume our normal activities. But…if our normal activities led us to the need for the original diet, won’t we just have to eventually go back “on a diet”? See the vicious circle? Yeah, we have all lived it. I lived it when I did the calorie counting, fat counting horror and never really lost the weight or regained my health. That, dear friends, is called the diet spin-cycle and it never ends until we stop going on diets.

October 2014

September 2014

So, if you’ve read my previous posts (yes, I know they are few and far between – a girl’s gotta make a living and have time to cook, right?), you know I’ve relearned how to eat for health. I follow the Paleo lifestyle (see how I don’t even call it the Paleo diet?) and while I am close to reaching my health and weight loss goals, I’m not “on a diet” because it’s not something I’m going to jump on and off as needed to drop a few pounds or deal with a nagging health concern. I’ve relearned how to eat to make my body and mind happy, so why would I want to stop to eat the foods that caused me so much pain, guilt and frustration all those years? Yeah, they taste yummy (well, not so much anymore) but I no longer NEED to taste that yumminess after not having it for so long. I’m beyond happy eating what IS good for me and I simply don’t eat what is not. Real food tastes even yummier to me, so I don’t ever feel the deprivation I felt when trying to eat tasteless low cal or low fat foods – there was no butter or bacon allowed on those “diets” but I get to eat those as much as I want to now. See, no diet = yum.

My favorite eggplant and tomato, with shrimp - no pasta needed

My favorite eggplant and tomato, with shrimp – no pasta needed http://cookingripe.com/roasted-eggplant-tomato-pasta-the-best-pasta-youll-ever-eat/

I see a lot of friends struggling inside the diet spin cycle and I think it’s largely because of their mindset about the temporality of the “diet.” If you believe all foods are just either high or low calorie/fat, why not just have that bowl of alfredo pasta when you’re on vacation? You deserve the treat, right? You can always just eat less tomorrow – or next week, or after the first of the year, right? Well, it’s not just about eating less or more. Oddly, we rarely acknowledge the fairly immediate non-scale impacts of that bowl o’ pasta, yet we usually end up feeling super full, bloated, maybe a little gassy or constipated, and dopey, tired and lethargic. It’s the food hangover, also known as “Grain Brain,” a term coined by Dr. Perlmutter. Some “foods” cause these problems, along with more serious health issues related to leaky gut which contributes to many, many health problems including autoimmune disease, diabetes, candida, etc.

What's hard about eating out?

Eating out – PLENTY of healthy options

Chicken WITH bones and skin on!

Chicken WITH bones and skin on!

 

But, let’s get back to the immediate, short term effects of the bowl o’pasta (or pizza or hoagie or dinner roll or pancake): the stomach and digestive upset and brain fog we often feel after eating grains, dairy, sugar, legumes and highly processed foods. When I first went Paleo, I had never made a conscious connection to how the food I ate made me feel in an hour, the next day and the next week – and how they hurt my overall productivity because I just didn’t feel “sharp.” Slowly, with the elimination of those fog-inducing foods, I found energy and clarity that I haven’t ever really had. Now, when I’m faced with the bread, or cookies or pasta options I just imagine myself feeling clunky, bloated and dull, so I have no desire to eat it when I can choose to eat something else that I love just as much – or even more – and feel sharp and energetic.

Real food is colorful

Real food is colorful

A few weeks ago I really noticed how true this is while I was working on-site with a client. I have to travel to the client’s training facility several times a year to support my company’s work. It’s a beautiful facility where we stay, eat and work for several days at a time. They have first class chefs on site and all of the food is just there for the eating – we don’t pay for anything – and there are snack stations set up about every 100 feet, lest you get famished walking from one room to the next. They offer many healthy, even gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan options to accommodate diverse dietary needs, but there’s just so much. So much. It’s like being on a cruise ship because of the endless opportunity to overeat and to blow the “diet.” Previously, despite my best intentions, I always overate and imbibed in the luscious afternoon snacks and desserts and chose pastas, sandwiches or doughy dishes at meals. I would also end up feeling so freaking tired by mid-afternoon and my brain wouldn’t function right, which led to me making mistakes at inopportune times. My digestion was always screwy and I’d have to spend extra time in the bathroom, if you know what I mean. I never really connected the dots, though. I thought it was just the stress and lack of sleep that also tends to come with these trips.

Soup is always good!

Soup is always good!

During my recent trips, I proved it’s all about the food quality, not just quantity. Last time I was there to support what is traditionally a very stressful project, and I had very early starts and some late nights, yet I felt sharp and “with it” all the way through. I didn’t have to over-caffeinate to get through the afternoons. I still ate delicious food, but I didn’t give into the bad foods because the return on my investment wouldn’t have been worth it. Ok, full disclosure: I did have one healthy [serving] spoonful of bread pudding and a few small handfuls of Jelly Bellys (from the many dispensers around the property!), but I know from experience that I can only have very small quantities, very occasionally before I feel the ill effects of larger helpings. I knew if I waded too far into the lake, I’d be drowning by the end of the project and why would I do that to myself? It felt good (and very satisfying) to be not only in control of my work, but in control of my body. When you feel good, physically, you also look good and exude confidence.

October 2014 (The Hubs enjoys my hippie look)

October 2014 (The Hubs enjoys my hippie look)

Is it easy to avoid all the goodies? Well, I’ll say it was fairly easy now because I’ve been Paleo for over a year, so I’ve learned a lot of tricks. It was more difficult for me when I was there last year at this same time. Also, because the sugar and other bad chemicals have left my system, I don’t crave them so much now. I know how to keep my blood sugar balanced by eating enough good fats and real carbs with protein at each meal, so I don’t succumb to the treats out of hunger. The hardest part is probably peer pressure because I’m often in a group of colleagues who do not understand my eating habits and don’t know the drastic changes I’ve made so they tend to encourage me to share in their over-consumption of refined carbs and sugar. That’s when I say I just don’t eat grains, sugar, dairy, etc. and I eat a bowl of fresh berries. That ends it usually – or they ask why and I get on my Paleo soapbox and you know how that goes…

My brother serving an early Paleo Thanksgiving dinner: no food coma

My brother serving an early Paleo Thanksgiving dinner: no food coma

In the end, what makes it work is my own mindset – not some random number on the scale. This is simply how I live. I do this; I don’t do that. I eat real food; I don’t eat grains or dairy. It’s not temporary; I’m committed for the duration. There are no breaks for stressful times, holidays, parties, or dinners out with friends, etc. I never feel deprived. I stay on the wagon because it would be too hard to get back on and I would hate to undo the good I’ve done. I simply eat food that is tasty and is also good for my body. Very occasionally I also eat a little bite of contraband – but that’s after learning how to have just one bite and not the whole pie/cake/box of cookies. It took time to get here, but I know that when my mind shifted to a deep understanding of the connection between what I eat and how I feel and function, I was able to step out of that damn diet spin cycle for good.

Half meat, half veg: all cooked in healthy FAT

Half meat, half veg: all cooked in healthy FAT

 

A great list of Paleo resources can be found at the end of this post.

 

 

The Nuts & Bolts: My Real Food Paleo Lifestyle (Breakfast)

(Part 1 of a series)

Before & After (in progress)

Before & After (in progress)

During the past year I’ve learned how to lose weight and get healthy by relearning how to eat. I learn well by example, so it was super helpful for me to read other people’s stories and testimonials on the various blogs and websites I follow – but not only for the motivational factor. I like to know specifically what people are doing so I can steal their tricks.

So as a follow-up to my last post, I thought I would write more specifically about what I actually do and eat because it might help someone find a new trick for their “health bag.” This time I’ll focus on food, starting with breakfast.

As I explained in the last post, I follow a Paleo lifestyle (I don’t like the word “diet” because it has too many negative connotations). That means I don’t eat grains, dairy, legumes or sugar. I also avoid packaged, processed “food” as much as possible. If you’re like I used to be, you’re thinking, So, what DO you eat? Nothing is left! Well, I just eat real food.

Let’s start with breakfast:

I don’t love having to cook breakfast after having been a cereal girl for my whole life, but I’ve learned that if I eat a good, balanced (includes fat, protein, carb) breakfast, I’m not hungry until lunchtime or later so I don’t snack all morning like I used to when I was on the cereal plan.

Basic Paleo breakfast

Basic Paleo breakfast

Basic: Two eggs, fried or scrambled in a little bacon grease; some breakfast meat (2-3 slices of bacon or some crumbled sausage or chorizo – probably bout ½ cup); 1/4-1/2 white potato. Some Paleo folks don’t do white potatoes, but I have learned that I need a little more resistant starch and carb in my diet, so do include organic white potatoes. I often pre-bake them and have them ready to do a quick fry in the morning. I also like to pre-cook my meats, so I only have to warm them while the eggs are cooking – or just throw it all together as a skillet meal. I recommend buying locally raised, pastured meat, if you can and/or opting for the nitrate-free, uncured breakfast meats at the grocery store. It’s also easy to find locally grown, pastured eggs which are likely better than what you’d find at the store. Finally, I need to learn to get more greens into my breakfast, too, so I’m working on that during my Whole 30.

Paleo Quiche: I like to make a quiche on Sunday evenings to have in the fridge for grab and go breakfasts during the week. I can just quickly warm a slice and don’t have to break out the frying pan (read: lazy). I make my quiche with a potato crust (sweet or white), prepared by slicing the potato on a mandolin slicer, then arranging in the bottom and sides of the glass quiche pan (greased with coconut oil). Then I season the potatoes and bake the crust for about 15 min on 350 (until the potato is fork-tender). Then I prepare a regular quiche filling of cooked breakfast meat of choice, sautéed veggies like spinach, kale, squash, onion, etc. a little salsa or favorite spices and then scramble up about 6 eggs (or more depending on size of pan) and pour it all over the cooked crust. Cook about 20-30 min at 350 or until eggs are set in the middle. I’ve also done this in muffin tins for egg muffins, using a single slice of potato as the bottom crust. Top the quiche with some sliced avocado and you’ve got a fast, nutritious breakfast. I don’t have a picture of my quite, but here’s a recipe I used for inspiration.

For beverage I drink coffee. I used to be a French vanilla creamer addict. Really – I would panic if I didn’t have any in the fridge for the next day and I bought it in half gallon cartons. Have you read the ingredients list on those creamers? I’m not sure there’s any actual “cream” in there! It’s a chemical sh** show, so I did give that up pretty early into my Paleo journey. But I still don’t like black coffee, so I had to find a substitute and went to a combo of coconut milk and local raw honey. I tried almond milk but it’s a little gritty, to me. I was buying the cartons of Silk coconut milk, but now that I’m doing the Whole 30, I had to give it up because it has carrageenan, which is a known gut irritant and not allowed during W30. Well, neither is honey (no sweeteners of any type), so currently, I’m using pure coconut milk only. Eh. It’s ok and it’s better than black, but I’m not sure I love it – yet. I’d like to learn to either drink the coffee black so I don’t have to worry about my “cream and sugar” or just give up the darn coffee. Not high on my to-do list right now, though.

I’m also adding a tablespoon of Great Lakes Gelatin to my coffee (it’s tasteless) to help with joint and hair health. My hair suffered from being a little too low carb, so that’s why I now include resistant starch and gelatin. It’s all a learning process.

Other Paleo folks (the Hubs calls them Paleans, which sounds a lot like aliens), advocate letting go of the usual breakfast paradigm of eggs, bacon, etc. and just eating whatever protein, fat and carb you have. I’m sure it works for some, but I just don’t like roast chicken and carrots for breakfast – yet. Maybe my tastes will change eventually.

Next time, I’ll share my favorite lunch options.

Again, here’s a great list of Paleo resources:

It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig
Whole 30 Program
Grain Brain by David Perlmutter
Wheat Belly by William Davis
The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Sarah Ballantyne
The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine by Terry Wahls M.D.
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo, Bill Staley and Robb Wolf
Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolfe
The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson
Mark’s Daily Apple
Grass-fed Girl
Against All Grain
Nom Nom Paleo
The Paleo Mom
Paleo OMG
The Spunky Coconut
• The Paleohacks Podcast
Balanced Bites podcast
Underground Wellness Radio podcast

A Year of Relearning How to Eat: How I lost 45 lbs Eating REAL FOOD

Shirt

 

People often ask me how I am losing weight and getting healthy, so I thought that my one

year milestone was a good time to tell my story. Apologies for the length, but it’s a whole YEAR’s worth of stuff about my life! I hope my story will encourage and inspire others and also help people understand why I do (and eat or not eat) what I do today.

The Dark Days

It isn’t like lightning struck or anything dramatic made me decide to change my relationship with food. It was more of a series of events that led me to start making choices that eventually led me down the path to a whole new lifestyle.

So it was July of 2013 and I was sick and tired. Sick of what? I didn’t know. I had been working some crazy long hours and I thought I was just worn down.

I had to go to my annual “lady physical” on July 1st and I had to have a fasting blood test, so I went without my morning coffee and bowl of cereal. I had trouble finding the doctor’s office. Yeah, I’ve been there many times and it’s a small town. I kept turning down the wrong streets and driving in circles. I finally found my way and just wanted to sit in the car and cry (I now know I was suffering from “grain-brain”). My longtime doc had retired so I had a new girl. She didn’t know me enough to see I was a mess and I was so out of it that I had trouble articulating how I felt. I told her I thought I had a sinus infection (because I often did) and she prescribed some antibiotics, and sent me on my way.

Our annual 4th of July festivities were painful for me because I felt like crap and it was so tiring to just get through my volunteer duties and social activities. I remember hiding out at home as much as I could.

May 2011

May 2011

Then we decided to buy tickets to a three-day outdoor music festival in Telluride in September and I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to hack it given my current state of health and lack of stamina. I didn’t want to slog through the whole thing and ruin it for myself or my friends and husband. Instead of looking forward to my favorite late-summer event, I was scared it would be a repeat of the 4th of July.

THEN I STEPPED ON THE SCALE. O.M.G. doesn’t begin to describe how bad it was. An all-time high for me sent me into an all-time low feeling about myself. How could I let this happen? I knew better! I knew what healthy eating was all about! I didn’t eat fast food! I knew how to cook! I even grew a garden and learned to CAN MY OWN TOMATOES, dammit!

I have always struggled with weight. I always felt like the pudgy girl in elementary school, but I thinned out in my teen years, thanks to skating and color guard activities (and a nasty bout of Mono!). I maintained a thinner weight, but not a healthy relationship with food through college. But after marriage and a stressful teaching career, I gained weight regularly over several years. The previous 10 years or so I had “dieted’ by doing the usual low fat, low calorie thing and I did my best to exercise regularly, and while I’d lose five pounds here and there, it was always so, so hard and it felt like a losing battle with the same 5 pounds – well, except I usually added some new ones in between “diets.”

So I felt like crap, weighed a ton, was fearful of upcoming fun events. Time to diet. Again. sigh.

 

May 2012: My daughter's college graduation. Cringing about having my photo taken

May 2012: My daughter’s college graduation. Cringing about having my photo taken

Inspiration

About that time I saw a friend of a friend’s Facebook post proudly proclaiming she was down to her pre-child weight (she’s about my age: 45) and that she did it mainly by walking around town daily and using some willpower against junk food. Walk and don’t eat junk. Sounds simple, I thought. If she can do it, I should be able to do it, right?

Then I saw an old friend who had had weight loss surgery. I asked her how her eating habits had changed since surgery and she said her biggest ah-ha moment was learning how much to eat. She said she had no idea before surgery what a “normal” serving size was. Hmm, I thought. I bet I have the same problem.

Small Changes

So with little fanfare, I decided to go for a walk – in the mornings before my life got in the way – and to try eating smaller portions and use a little willpower. I wrote that huge number from the scale on a post-it note and put it next to my computer so I could see it ALL day long. I found an app on my smartphone called Map My Walk and took my first morning walk on July 14, 2013. I had been a walker before, so this was not so momentous, but the key turned out to be doing it in the morning because I learned to love the way it helped me wake up my brain and my body first thing. I liked watching my stats on the app improve from day to day, then week to week.

I tackled the “diet” as I had done before, cutting calories and fat and working at those smaller portions and eating less often. Boo! I was HANGRY! It’s supposed to suck when you’re dieting, right? Sigh. Yes. I even did some calorie counting in My Fitness Pal and I HATE, I mean really, really HATE counting things. I’m a word girl, not a number girl, so it’s really painful for me to count. And since I really do cook mostly from scratch, it’s a pain to measure and then input every little ingredient in the recipe into the system. But at least I got a sense of how much I was eating, which did help to some degree. What I now know is that I was tracking quantity over quality. You can use up your whole calorie count for the day on a few slices of pizza.

A Better Way

So with a ton of willpower and pain I eventually lost my usual five pounds. But, along the way I started doing some research. I’m not sure exactly what led me down the road to the Paleo lifestyle, but I remember my doctor mentioning it once when I was complaining of weird, unidentified stomach issues. My response had been something like, “What would I eat if I couldn’t have wheat, for god sakes?” I guess I was looking for something, anything that would move the “diet” along at a better pace. A few friends mentioned doing it on Facebook and maybe my brother, the healthy one in the family, had mentioned he was following it. It sounded extreme, especially for someone who can’t even manage to count a calorie, but something about it resonated with me. Maybe I needed something extreme in that moment, so on September 4, 2013, about 10 days before that 3-day music festival, I quietly slid into the Paleo diet. I didn’t tell anyone; I just figured I’d give it a go and see how it felt. My husband didn’t even notice because he’s a meat lover and was pleased as long as meat arrived on his plate each dinner.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Paleo plan, in simplest terms, it eliminates grains (not just gluten!!!), sugar, legumes and dairy – all for various reasons, but basically because they cause digestive and other inflammatory issues in the human body. Considering I was a bread/pasta/sugar/bean/milk/cheese addict, this was pretty damn drastic! At first, I refused to give up my “healthy” and beloved breakfast of plain whole-grain Cheerios with skim milk, a sliced banana and blueberries. I had eaten cereal for breakfast nearly every single day of my life! It wasn’t Captain Crunch, after all. It was healthy whole-grain Cheerios. The plain ones! And there was fruit on top and no-fat milk! Doesn’t get any healthier, I reasoned.

Well…so I think I lost a few pounds at first, and then stalled, so I read something about too many carbs, which I had never really paid attention to before. I input my breakfast into that damn calorie counter and found out it was loaded with carbs. Sigh. Time to give it up. I started making eggs for breakfast. What a pain in my big ass. But, what a clearer head I have in the morning now.

Small Victories

Oh, the 3-day music festival? I was only a little ways into Paleo and wasn’t completely clean yet, but I did get through it better than I had expected back in July. I’m sure my daily walking and generally improved diet helped. It rained for three days: think Woodstock. Yeah, but I survived and wasn’t totally blown up afterwards. Baby steps.

From there I just kind of hung with it and pounds starting coming off much more easily than they had when I followed the Standard American Diet (SAD) rules. By mid-November I had lost 20 pounds! Real progress – freaking finally!

December 2013: First time in years to happily pose for a photo

December 2013: First time in years to happily pose for a photo

Relearning Nutrition

Meanwhile, I was reading tons of blogs and listening to podcasts learning about the Paleo lifestyle and why it’s better for us than the SAD. It all starting making so much sense! Grains are like crack in our bodies and when we eat them, we want more, more, more – not because we don’t have will-power, but because our hormones whack out on them and think we NEED more. I learned how different the grain of today is from the grain of even 50 years ago, thus causing so very many health issues for modern humans. Research has drawn very strong connections between the raise in common health issues like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and many auto-immune diseases to the consumption of grains. I’m not going to get into all of the science here because you can read more about it, if you’re interested, on your own. But basically, consumption of grains, sugar, legumes and dairy creates a variety of inflammatory reactions in our bodies, which then causes a myriad of other health issues. It’s NOT about cutting fat and total calories!

The REAL Motivation

Learning about the health benefits of my new way of eating really helped it solidify for me so it wasn’t just about losing weight anymore. Have I mentioned how type II diabetes runs rampant – RAMPANT! – through my family? Or how both of my parents died of completely preventable diseases at a young ages? Mom was emphysema (yes, she smoked till the end) at 65, and dad was diabetes and all of the side effects, including the loss of one leg below the knee and half of one foot, at 73. Sigh. What if?? What IF they had learned the right information about health and diet before it was too late?

And did I mention that my daughter turned 22 in 2013? I was 22 when she was born and I was 32 when my mom died. 32! Way. Too. Young. The light started to finally dawn on me that if I continued abusing my body as I had been before, I was going to inflict the same pain on my daughter that my parents’ diseases and deaths had inflicted on me. No! God no! I couldn’t put her through that!

So there was the real motivation to keep going. People ask me if I miss things like cake or beans or cheese. Yeah, sort of but not really anymore. Sure, at first it was hard because I had to unlearn how I had been eating all of my life. Cereal, bread and tortillas were the hardest for me. All of my go-to meals had involved one of those. If I was in a hurry, I made a PB&J sandwich or a quesadilla – but I put chicken and veggies or beans in with the cheese on the flour tortilla! Face-plant. All wrong. The good news is that I do cook and I like veggies. Contrary to popular media mythology, the Paleo diet is NOT all about meat. It’s about eating real food. Real food includes protein, vegetables, fruit, good fats, and nuts & seeds. There’s a lot more to it than meat (though the Hubs still likes that part, best). After you get the hang of focusing on what you can eat vs what you can’t eat, it’s just not that hard.

February 2014

February 2014

Slow and Simple

The weight came off slowly, but regularly and it became pretty easy, really. I never had any major backslides, just normal two pound fluctuations on the scale. What I’m most proud of is that I have lived nearly a year of NORMAL life like this, which means it’s no longer a “diet”- now it’s a lifestyle. I have maintained my new lifestyle while doing things that used to cause backslides and weight gain. I have traveled for work and pleasure (including to Santa Fe during the Christmas holidays and to Vegas twice!); I have had stressful times at work and home; I have gone through ALL of the holiday seasons (I lost weight over Christmas holidays and 4th of July); I have mourned with friends as they have lost loved ones; I have BOUGHT A HOUSE and MOVED (is there anything more stressful?); I have put a dog to sleep; I have been to parties, concerts, large events, bars, restaurants; I have been too tired or busy (or lazy) to cook; I have had PMS about 12 times; I have been sad, happy, lonely, worried, stressed, bored and excited – and I have maintained my healthy lifestyle. I committed and that’s just how I live now.

Exercise?

Physically, I didn’t kill myself with a bunch of work-out regimens but I did try some new things and I’m fitter and stronger than ever. Besides walking every week day (I’ve logged 463 miles so far, with a goal of doing at least 500 in 2014), I’ve done some 30-day challenges (I can now plank for 2 min 15 seconds – on my elbows!) and I do a little work with strength training. I’ve also done three 5K event walks, with another color run/walk scheduled later this month.

Cheating?

Do I cheat? I don’t have “cheat” meals or “cheat days” where I throw it out the window for a period of time. I do have “cheat” bites, usually of my husband’s contraband, but that’s all I need to remind myself to quit it and do the right thing. I know if I have crap, I will feel like crap and now that I don’t feel like crap every day I really notice the difference. Before, on my SAD diet, I didn’t notice the difference because my body was used to feeling bad. It’s just not worth it to have cake and feel bloated, itchy and fuzzy brained the next day. I truly believe that I am what I eat, and everything that goes in my mouth impacts my body. I’d rather eat food that impacts it positively.

March 2014

March 2014

Improved Health

And yes, there have been health benefits along with the weight loss:

• High blood pressure is gone so I don’t have to take daily meds.
• The constant sinus issues, which were attributed to seasonal or pet allergies, are nearly gone. I don’t take daily Singulair anymore. It was likely the grain and/or dairy causing all of my sinus inflammation. Duh. My perpetually clogged right ear is usually unclogged, too.
• The random skin issues are almost non-existent. I have had small bouts of eczema and/or psoriasis off and on all my life and my scalp was habitually itchy and scaly. My skin feels smooth and moist for the first time ever.
• Zits nearly never appear- finally, at age 45! I only get them if I allow myself those bites of crap mentioned above.
• PMS is very mild.  Hormones are much more balanced now.
• My chronic lower back pain is much improved. The walking and lack of inflammation have kept it at bay – I didn’t have to spend weeks icing it to recover from moving!
• Random stomach/digestive issues are gone. I used to have unexplained bouts of diarrhea and constipation, occasional squeezing pain on my left side, and lots of gas and bloating. I thought it all fairly ‘normal.’ Not anymore!

My health issues were relatively minor compared to those who have reversed diabetes, MS, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, autism, ADHD and other super serious health conditions following the Paleo lifestyle, but I think I just dodged what was an inevitable bullet that was heading for me had I not cleaned up my act. Sorry diabetes, you’re not getting this one!

April 2014: Same blouse as Dec. 13

April 2014: Same blouse as Dec. 13

Comfortable in My Own Skin

The BEST part is I feel whole again. I’m me, only better. Even when I was thinner in my younger years, I was never in control my health. Now I am. I am truly comfortable in my own skin for the first time in many years – or maybe ever. I have more weight to lose to be within the “medically acceptable” range, but I don’t have a certain number in mind. I’ll know when I get there and it doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as I’m moving in the right direction. I have no visions of being a size 4 or anything. I just want to be able to wear cute clothes (like sleeveless shirts and a bathing suit!) and be as healthy as I can be.

I’m immensely proud that I found a way to do this in a way that is sustainable for the long term. I also LOVE that I didn’t buy a program, or join a system or anything like. I just relearned how to eat the right foods. Pretty damn simple in the long run :)

I no longer live in fear of my own limitations. The 4th of July was so much better this year! I did a lot more physically with my volunteer work and socially (the Hubs and I even danced a little), and I didn’t feel all strung out the whole time. We’re going to the 3-day music festival again, but this year I have to duck out a day early to go on week-long out of state business trip. There’s a challenge to my stamina! Yep, I’ll be ready.

What Now?

Looking forward to the one year anniversary of my healthier me journey, I have been thinking about what’s next for me. I feel like I have all the tools now, so what do I do now? I don’t want to just keep on keepin’ on because I fear that will lead to being too comfortable, which could lead to backsliding. I think I need to keep learning and trying new things and improving my overall health.
So, starting today I’m embarking on the Whole 30 program. It’s basically a 30-day strict Paleo challenge. Yeah, I’m already pretty strict but I have a few places where I can improve, so it’s just a tune-up, really. I need to:

• Break my honey and dark chocolate as sugar habit.
• Eat fewer nuts because I use them as snacks instead of more nutrient-dense foods.
• Eat more leafy greens and more veggies, overall.
• Expand my horizons by trying new foods (liver? sardines? Kombucha?).
• Decrease my non-food/chemical intake like MSG, soy, carrageen, guar gum, etc.
• Stop the occasional corn (yes, it’s a grain) intake via corn tortillas and (organic!) corn chips.

doing-the-w30-IGIt will be interesting to see how these tweaks make me feel after 30 days. I assume I’ll feel even better and more energetic than I do now!

I know this is a lot of information for a blog post, but I know that reading other real people’s stories helped me stay focused during the last year. That simple Facebook post I saw last year inspired me to do something different, so maybe my story will inspire someone else to try something, too.

Cheers to REAL FOOD!

July 2014

July 2014

For ideas on what to eat, see my The Nuts & Bolts: My Real Food Paleo Lifestyle series.

Resources: below is a list of link to books, blogs and podcasts I have read and listened to while on my first year journey. Most of them also have Facebook, Pinterest and other associated resources. If you are interested in learning more about eating real and the Paleo lifestyle, I encourage you to browse these resources.

It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig
• Whole 30 Program
Grain Brain by David Perlmutter
Wheat Belly by William Davis
The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Sarah Ballantyne
The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine by Terry Wahls M.D.
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo, Bill Staley and Robb Wolf
Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolfe
The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson
Mark’s Daily Apple
Grass-fed Girl
Against All Grain
Nom Nom Paleo
The Paleo Mom
Paleo OMG
The Spunky Coconut
• The Paleohacks Podcast
Balanced Bites podcast
Underground Wellness Radio podcast

Cooking Ripe! is BAAAACK!

 

Sunflowers by Cooking Ripe!

Wow, so the last time I posted was back in April and I wrote about planning the summer garden. So…I guess that garden has come and gone now that it’s mid-October, eh?

So, where have I been? Nothing crazy, I just had a super busy (insane!) period at work from May-July, and then I was tired. Really tired. Seriously, that’s it. I work virtually from home and after that work siege, I couldn’t face more computer time – especially when I had gardening and other summer activities to attend to.

After feeling so tired and burned out..and sick, I also made a fairly major decision to adopt a new diet and lifestyle. I’m practicing a Paleo diet and I feel really good after about six weeks (and have lost 15 pounds; 10 since starting Paleo). What’s Paleo? In a nutshell, it’s a diet that eliminates dairy, processed food & refined sugar, legumes (beans) and most importantly, grains (which means it’s also gluten free). It encourages lots of veggies (my fav!), fruits, nuts and seeds, healthy fats and lean animal protein (including seafood). It’s all about clean eating, which makes me so happy! There’s a lot more to it, and it is said to help folks with lots of health issues, so I encourage you to Google it or check out Robb Wolf’s definition here.

So, given the new diet, I’ve been learning to cook while eliminating some of my favorite staples: tortillas, bread and cheese. Honestly, it has not been as hard as I thought it might be. I have always preferred to make the veggies the star of my meals, so I just had to learn to leave out the non-Paleo ingredients. The Hubs is not following a Paleo diet, but he has no argument with my Paleo meals because they involve meat, which is his favorite. As long as it’s got meat, he’s happy (he’s a simple guy, right?). He’s free to add bread and cheese if he chooses to, but I hope he’ll gradually get over it. I’ll let you know how that goes!

So, is this blog going to become a “Paleo blog”? Not necessarily because I’m new to it and cannot profess to be an expert. That said, I will be sharing my favorite recipes that will likely be Paleo or mostly Paleo. If you’re not Paleo, I promise you’ll still love the recipes – and you can always add non-Paleo ingredients as you wish!

So welcome back! I hope you enjoy the new upcoming recipes!

Betsie

Previous Cooking Ripe! recipes that qualify as Paleo:

 

 

 

How Will YOUR Garden Grow?

 

Don’t be intimated about starting a vegetable garden of you own. It can be as easy or as complicated as you make it – so, just give it a try and keep it simple! Here are some tips to help you get started.

I bet you thought I gave up on this whole blog thing since it’s been eons since I posted anything. NO, I most certainly did NOT give up on this blog – it’s my favorite hobby! But you know how it is with hobbies: you usually only get to do them when you’re not doing something else you’re supposed to be doing…like working, cleaning, etc. Well, it hasn’t been cleaning holding up this hobby, that’s for certain! Well…that’s not totally accurate either….ANYWAY, we had a floor refinishing situation going on at our house, thanks to our two newly adopted Basset Hounds (more about them later), and I have been a traveling fool for my job lately. Alas, just not a lot of time to blog!

I have been thinking about this post for weeks because it’s about GARDENING and it’s time to start thinking about gardens! My favorite time of year…except for the insanely schizophrenic weather that comes with it. TEASE! One day warm and sunny and the next frigid and snowing. Sigh..but it means warm temps are definitely on the way to stay – soon!

I have ordered most of my plants and seeds and I’m drawing pictures of this year’s layout of scraps of paper when I’m supposed to be working. I plan to pot some pansies and petunias this weekend – weather permitting – and I want to put in my cold crops by the end of the month – weather permitting.

People who haven’t grown a veggie garden often fear that it’s too hard to start from scratch – or they worry that their lack of garden knowledge will result in dead plants and disappointment. I’m here to tell you that it’s just not that hard. Plant it, water it, weed it and pick it! Well..there are a few other details, but really, my dad’s number one life rule applies: KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid! No, you’re not stupid, but it makes for a funny acronym….and you had to know my dad.

If you haven’t gardened lately – or ever – here are a few simple things to consider when getting started. Like anything new, you just have to start and that’s the hardest step. After that, everything else is easier.

1. Space

Do you have a large expanse of available space in your yard that gets sun most of the day? If so, you can just till up the dirt (or install some raised beds) and plant away. If not, don’t worry: you can still grow veggies! Container gardening is all the rage and it works well for all sorts of veggies. The beauty of it is that you can put your containers wherever you want, so you can place them in the best spot to get lots of daily sun – or – move them around, as needed. Setting your larger containers on a wheeled plant dolly will make this task super simple. Vertical gardening is another garden fad for the space-challenged gardener. Yet another option is to have a few smaller garden zones around your yard. Maybe you’ve got a few feet of planter box or an edge of dirt along the driveway – spread out your garden; there’s no rule that says it must be set up in a neat square with long rows. A few feet here and a few feet there and you’ve got a harvest. And don’t ignore your front yard either – veggies make beautiful flowers, too, so why not throw some in among your daisies?

Herb garden in raised beds (http://www.artandappetite.com/2011/04/desert-gardening/)

Vertical Pallet Garden (http://lifeonthebalcony.com/photos-of-my-pallet-garden/)

Container Garden (http://www.marthastewart.com/337398/small-space-garden-ideas?crlt.pid=camp.iZyUqnyY2nEG#308388)

2. Water

How will you water your garden plants? If you live in a wetter climate, you won’t have to worry as much, but you may have to worry about too much water. I live in what we call ‘high desert’ conditions which means that although we have snowy winters, we don’t get a lot of summer rain. I generally have to water daily. Plan to water a few times a week, at a minimum. Plants do prefer even, regular watering, so you should consider how you can deliver that. My method of choice is soaker hoses. These are hoses from which water slowly seeps. I turn it on about 15-20 minutes a day during the hot summer days and it waters my plants slowly and evenly. Apparently, watering this way ensures nice root growth whereas watering with a sprinkler can be so-so because the water will blow around randomly and then sit on top of the plants instead of getting into the roots as efficiently. Top-down water can also cause mold due to the water sitting on the plants. I know, when it rains, it’s top-down watering, right? Well, let’s just say that when nature does it for us, it’s always better, but may not be as efficient. Drip irrigation is another method that works well in any garden, but it will require more time and money to set up at the outset than laying down some soaker hoses. Finally, passive water collection and irrigation techniques are very eco-friendly and most are pretty easy to get set up. For example, a 1 liter bottle with a few holes poked into it and the top cut off and buried in the dirt works as a slow watering tool.

Water reservoir (http://dabbletree.vrya.net/content.php?p=22)

Drip Irrigation (http://www.gardensalive.com/product.asp?pn=3716)

Soaker Hose watering – my watering technique of choice

3. Time

I’m not going to lie: I spend A LOT of time in my garden during the summer and then a lot of time in the kitchen in the Fall dealing with harvest. I work at home, so I’m able to run outside and turn on hoses and maybe pull a few weeds, as needed. If you’re more time-challenged than I am, you may consider starting small to see what the time investment looks like for you. Like having pets and children, if you’re going away for the week on vacation, who will care for your garden? Automatic timers on the faucet can help a lot,  but what about containers? Do you have a reliable and willing friend or family member who can help you out? Do you want to spend a few hours a week weeding? Do you like sitting in dirt? When it’s harvest time, will you have time to chop and freeze or can and preserve your bounty? Again, if you’re not so sure, keep it small: plant a couple of things you think your family will enjoy and see how it goes this year. Next year, expand according to your available time.

My garden 2011 – first, very small attempt at my current home
Second attempt - much larger

Second attempt – much larger

4. What to grow

I have seen people plant acres (ok, not really THAT much) of something like radishes. Nobody really needs bushels of radishes, do they? Well, if you do, go ahead and plant the whole packet of seeds, but if you only like to have one or two radishes a year on a salad – at a restaurant, then radishes aren’t your crop of choice. Skip them and plant what you and your family LOVE to eat. You have to LOVE it because if your crop works, you’ll be eating plenty of it. Most gardeners have learned the hard way that a couple of squash plants is more than enough for most average households. Five plants can feed a small country. There are no rules about what you have to plant. I used to think there was some code that required that I had to plant zucchini, carrots, green beans and tomatoes or I was not a real gardener. This year I do not plan to have either zucchini or green beans because I just don’t need or want them. Gasp! I will be planting Brussels sprouts and tomatillos because I like them and because I want to :). If you haven’t gardened before and you want easy growers, try carrots, lettuce, squash, onions or beans – but only if like to eat them. Don’t forget the herbs to make all of the usual veggies taste even better. Basil and cilantro grow like weeds, so they’re good bets for first-timers and they are very multipurpose. Also, remember, you don’t have to plant every seed in the packet – share with friends if you don’t need 300 carrots. One rule of thumb I have learned, however, is that you should have at least two of each plant for pollinating reasons. Finally, throw in some flowers among your veggies. Marigolds and nasturtiums are excellent choices: marigolds help repel many garden pests, like aphids and nasturtiums are said to improve the flavor of tomatoes. True? I don’t know, but why not have a pretty veggie garden – OH, and they will attract the precious bees who will come handle the pollination for you!

Companion Planting Guide (https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/486968_349049855191325_1867151882_n.jpg)

Don’t be scared – just give it a try and see how it goes! I started small and I read some gardening books to learn along the way – and talked to other gardeners for tried and true methods in your geographical area. As always, Pinterest is a great resource for easy garden ideas. See my Gardening and Greenhouse Dreams boards for my favorite ideas.

We’ll talk more about how your garden will grow and how my garden does grow as we dig through the 2013 season.

Traditional Green Chile

 

Traditional green chile is a super tasty, versatile main dish or recipe addition that’s actually very easy to make at home.

Traditional Green Chile

The Hubs and I share a love for cooking (and eating) traditional southwestern Mexican food. His love stems from growing up as a third-generation Mexican-American and eating traditional homemade Mexican food. Mine is less obvious. While my mom loved eating very spicy Mexican food, she rarely cooked it because my dad did not share the love. But when I was in high school, my parents moved several times, so I ended up living with my best friend’s family so I could stay at my local high school. Her dad was Mexican her mom was a well-trained traditional Mexican cook. Needless to say, I ate well there! Fresh homemade beans and tortillas anytime I wanted – yum-ME! I wasn’t very adventurous in those days, so I didn’t eat all of the available traditional dishes like albondigas, menudo or even green chile. I know! What was I thinking not eating green chile? I thought the chiles might be slimy or something. Well..I got over that when I worked as a hostess and waitress at a little Mexican food restaurant in Phoenix when I was in college because the cooks made me try everything! Green chile is by far one of my favorite dishes – and it’s the same for the Hubs!

Traditional Green ChileLucky for me, I married a guy who knows how to make homemade green chile! I have refused to learn because you know how it goes – once you know how, you have to do it all of the time. I figure it’s best letting the Hubs have his culinary specialties that only he makes (there are about 3). I patiently wait until he announces “maybe I’ll make some chile today” because if I bug him, he’s less enthusiastic and it shows in the quality of the chile (sorry, honey, but it’s true).

I got lucky last weekend when he uttered the words I have been waiting for. I asked him if I could take notes while he made it this time, so I could share it with my readers. He agreed, but was a little leery about it and I know he felt self-conscious while I was watching, but I’m telling you – knowing I was watching and taking notes made him step up his game and this pot of green chile was some of his best work to date! Of course, now that I watched, I learned so you know what that means…I’ll be making the green chile in the future :)

While we were in the kitchen, I asked him how he learned to make the chile. He said he watched his folks and just picked it up. Like we all do when we cook, he says he makes it a little differently each time, but the basics are the same. When I asked about other recipes I’ve seen that include veggies like carrots or potatoes, he gave me a look – a look that says, “You’re kidding, right?” So, simple and pure is how it has to be at our house.

We have several bags of preserved Hatch green chiles from last summer’s Bountiful Baskets offering in the freezer still. You can purchase the Hatch green chiles in the fall from groceries and big box stores – sometimes already roasted. If you can’t find Hatch, you can use California green chiles or Anaheim chiles, but they won’t be as hot, so leave in more seeds if you’re looking for spice.

Bags of green chile from the freezer

Bags of green chile from the freezer

Traditional Green ChileChiles need to be roasted before cooking because the outer skin is tough. See my post on Roasting and Preserving Hatch Green Chiles for the method, which can be done on the grill or under the broiler.

Green Chile Prep Method

Once your green chiles are roasted, you need to remove the charred skin and seeds, if desired. Our green chiles were a little mild for us, so we left most seeds in this time. You can test by slicing off a piece of the roasted chile and eating it, seeds in, and see how it feels on your tongue. Too hot? Remove some or most of the seeds to suit your tastes. The Hubs says to lay the roasted green chile on the cutting board, hold onto the stem end and scrape the blackened char off with the edge of a sharp knife. Then open it up and scrape out the seeds, if desired. Finally just slice off the stem end and discard. You can rinse off remaining char/seeds under cool water. Don’t worry that the chiles end up in odd shapes – you’re going to dice it all up anyway. After diced, liberally salt the green chiles and let sit while you prepare the pork.

Traditional Green Chile

Cooking while having a beer improves the overall flavors, right?

Traditional Green ChileTraditional Green ChileTraditional Green ChileOnce the green chiles are cleaned, you’re ready to make traditional homemade green chile. What do you do with it? Well, slather it on anything you want or just eat it out of the pot, using a tortilla for a spoon (not that I have ever done that). The Hubs says they always had red or green chile around the house. Beside the traditional enchiladas and burritos, they ate it like my family ate gravy – poured over meat and potatoes. He loves it over scrambled eggs, a chicken fried steak, or over mashed potatoes. He says they even had green chile on the Thanksgiving table to ladle over turkey! That’s one way to dress up that dry bird! Personally, I like to make my own “lazy enchiladas” which means I stack a few corn tortillas on a plate with some green chile and cheese in between and put in the microwave to melt together. No rolling and baking needed. :)

Traditional Green Chile

Serves 8
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hour, 20 minutes
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish, Side Dish, Soup
Misc Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Occasion Casual Party, Super Bowl, Thanksgiving
Traditional green chile is a super tasty, versatile main dish or recipe addition that's actually very easy to make at home.

Ingredients

  • 1lb pork (Country style ribs, or pork chops, or ground pork are our choices)
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1lb Hatch green chile (or Anaheim/California chiles) (roasted, peeled, seeded and diced (see method above))
  • salt
  • 3 cups water

Directions

Step 1 Dice pork (unless you're using ground pork) into bite-sized pieces. Freezing for awhile before slicing will make cutting the meat easier.
Step 2 Traditional Green Chile
In a dutch oven or other large soup-type pot, place pork, onions and garlic powder. Turn heat to medium-high and begin browning the meat. After the meat cooks a little and begins to render a little fat, begin sprinkling the flour into the pot, a little at a time, stirring as you go. This will form a roux. Allow meat to brown for a few more minutes.
Step 3 Traditional Green Chile
Add diced green chiles to the pot, stir to incorporate completely. Allow to cook for a few more minutes, then add the water and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Step 4 Traditional Green Chile
Reduce heat and simmer, ideally for an hour or more, on low heat (uncovered) to allow flavors to fully develop.

Notes

Green chile can be served in many assorted ways. Create fresh green chile enchiladas or burritos or use it as a gravy over whatever you want to. I think it is very freezable, but we never have enough leftover to freeze. I like to fix homemade pinto beans with my green chile, so I can have a complete Mexican meal. I also think it could be made vegetarian by skipping the pork and would be just as yummy.

I challenge you to make some homemade green chile and create a whole new type of meal with it! Leave a comment below and tell us all about it.

Traditional Green ChileRelated Posts:

Fish Tacos with Spicy Pineapple Slaw

 

Fish tacos made with white fish fillets or shrimp, topped with a fresh and fruity, spicy pineapple slaw are great for a quick and easy dinner or casual dinner party or barbecue.

Fish Tacos with Spicy Pineapple SlawI’ll eat almost anything if it’s wrapped inside a tortilla. My Southwestern upbringing is responsible, I guess, but what else is simpler to make than a taco or a burrito? And what is more versatile? You can fill ‘em with any combination of ingredients you have on hand – and I frequently do for a fast dinner. Maybe I need to do a whole taco series here on Cooking Ripe!

The Hubs shares my affinity for tacos and he adores fish tacos – which is awesome because they’re easy to make and they’re actually healthy! Winning!

The fun part of this fish taco recipe is making the slaw topping, which is also works as a simple and light side dish if you prefer. Combining the sweet pineapple with the cabbage and some fiery spices creates a super festive flavor combo and a nice crispy fresh topping for the fish. This week it was also a great way for me to use up the fresh pineapple and cabbage I recently received from my Bountiful Baskets order.

Fish Tacos with Spicy Pineapple SlawI have used different varieties of white fish for this recipe, including mahi-mahi, cod and tilapia and I’m sure halibut would be lovely as well. Use whatever you have on hand or whatever is on sale. I also love this as a shrimp taco, but the Hubs has that weird aversion to shrimp touching anything else, so I don’t get to use shrimp very often.Fish Tacos with Spicy Pineapple Slaw

While I made these on the stove-top because it’s still too cold to grill out, these fish tacos would make a great spring or summer BBQ dish, too. It’s easy to throw the slaw together ahead of time, then just cook the fish when you’re ready to serve the guests and you’ll have an easy party meal. As always, do your thing with the ingredients – all measurements are close approximations and vary each time I throw it together.

Fish Tacos with Spicy Pineapple Slaw

Serves 6-8 tacos
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 30 minutes
Meal type Appetizer, Condiment, Lunch, Main Dish, Side Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Serve Hot
Occasion Barbecue, Casual Party
Region Mexican
Fish tacos made with white fish fillets or shrimp, topped with a fresh and fruity, spicy pineapple slaw are great for a quick and easy dinner or casual dinner party or barbecue.

Ingredients

  • 4 white fish filets (I used tilapia. Mahi-mahi, cod or halibut - or a lb of shrimp are also good choices)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder, divided
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1-2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo sauce (use more or less to taste - it's very spicy)
  • 1/2 head cabbage, finely shredded
  • 3/4 cups pineapple, diced (fresh is best, but canned can be subbed (drain well))
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, diced (seeded, if you prefer)
  • 4-5 green onions (thinly sliced, both green and white sections)
  • 3/4 cups salsa
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (use more or less to taste)
  • 1 lime (sliced in half)
  • 1 lemon (sliced in half)
  • 12 corn tortillas (we prefer the white corn tortillas)
  • cooking spray

Directions

Fish marinade
Step 1 Fish Tacos with Spicy Pineapple Slaw
Combine the oil, 2 tablespoons chili powder, coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, chipotle in adobo in shallow dish. Place the fish fillets in the dish and spoon the marinade over them until they are coated in the sauce. Squeeze half the lime juice over the fillets. Place dish in fridge and let sit about 20 minutes.
Spicy pineapple slaw
Step 2 Fish Tacos with Spicy Pineapple Slaw
Combine cabbage, remaining chili powder, pineapple, avocado, cucumber, green onions, salsa, cilantro, and red pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Gentle stir to combine completely. Squeeze remaining lime and 1/2 lemon over mixture and stir. Store in fridge until ready to eat.
Preparation
Step 3 Fish Tacos with Spicy Pineapple Slaw
Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Add oil to very lightly cover bottom of pan. Carefully add fillets to the pan. Cook 3-4 minutes per side (longer if you're using a thicker piece of fish) turning only once. The thickest part of the fish should be fairly firm when pressed. It will also be solid white rather than translucent or pinkish in the middle.
Step 4 Fish Tacos with Spicy Pineapple Slaw
Steam the tortillas by spraying both sides lightly with cooking spray, then wrapping 6 tortillas at a time in a very lightly damp kitchen towel and microwaving for 1.5 minutes.
Step 5 Fish Tacos with Spicy Pineapple Slaw
Break up the fish fillets into smaller pieces with a fork, then fill tortilla shells with fish and top with slaw. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the top before serving.

Notes

This recipe is very free-form and I change it up each time I make it. You can spice it up as much as you like by playing around with variations of peppers - add some green chiles, or some jalapeno or even more of the chipotle in adobo if you're brave!

I have also used mango instead of pineapple and we like is just as much. I think it would be fun to grill the pineapple before adding to the slaw, too, because the grilling brings out the sweetness.

Garnish with tomatoes, hot sauce, cheese or sour cream to suit your tastes and pour a margarita and you'll be set!

Related Posts:

 

 

 

Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls

 

Pineapple with ginger, garlic and Sriracha hot chili sauce makes the perfect sweet and spicy flavor combination in these non-traditional pork egg rolls. Baking and then very lightly frying the egg rolls creates the crispy outer shell we all love.

Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg RollsThe Hubs and I are Supercross fans. If you’re not familiar, that’s professional indoor dirt bike racing. I became a fan out of necessity when I acquired the Hubs. He was a amateur racer back in the 70’s so he introduced me to the sport and now I’m a pretty committed fan – sometimes I even know more facts and stats than he does. Since it’s Supercross season now, we spend our Saturday nights watching the races live on TV. It’s like football Sundays, so I like to make some fun food to make it more festive.

This week, since it’s Chinese New Year, I got a hankering for homemade egg rolls. I am no expert on egg roll making, mind you, but I have tried them a few times to varying degrees of success. The first time, I followed a fairly complicated traditional recipe that called for several ingredients I didn’t have but I bought because I wanted them to be correct. They were tasty, but a little too fussy with the non-pantry items for me. I tried a simpler recipe another time and tried baking them to avoid the evil frying method. Eh. They didn’t crisp up enough in the oven, as least for my tastes. They had crispy spots but also had some doughy spots. They were just ok.

So, when I set out to make egg rolls this weekend, I decided to try a new method for both the filling and the cooking. I still had some pineapple from my last Bountiful Basket collection and the Hubs loves it combined with pork and cabbage, which I also had on hand. Why not make the filling a little sweet with the pineapple and then spice it up with the traditional ginger, garlic and Sriracha? Sounded good to me, but the Hubs was doubtful about veering from a more traditional filling (ie. no pineapple). Whatever :). I wanted the crispy outer shell, so I decided to bake them, but then fry them in just a teensy tiny bit of oil so the shell would be crisp, but the insides wouldn’t be swimming in the frying oil.

Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls

The results were quite wonderful! The filling was exactly what I had in mind – spicy with that slight touch of sweetness and the shells were pretty crunchy. They do not turn out quite as crunchy as the fully fried kind, but definitely better than the just baked type and lower in fat than deep-fried. The Hubs fully approved of the half-baked compromise, so I take that as a WIN! They were a great race-night dinner and I would serve them to guests :)

Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls

I didn’t worry about using ingredients I didn’t have and focused instead on what I did have on hand, so I encourage you to do the same as you use this recipe. If you don’t have something listed, omit and add something you do have and it’ll work! I used pork, but you could use ground beef, chicken, turkey or omit the meat for a vegetarian version. I think shrimp would also be really awesome in these rolls.

Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls

Serves 18
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Appetizer, Lunch, Main Dish, Side Dish, Snack, Starter
Misc Child Friendly, Serve Hot
Occasion Birthday Party, Casual Party, Super Bowl
Region Asian
Pineapple with ginger, garlic and Sriracha hot chili sauce makes the perfect sweet and spicy flavor combination in these non-traditional pork egg rolls. Baking and then very lightly frying the egg rolls creates the crispy outer shell we all love.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1lb ground pork
  • 2-3 carrots (finely diced or julienned)
  • 4-5 green onions (thinly sliced, both green and white sections)
  • 2-3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1.5 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 2-3 teaspoons Sriracha hot chili sauce (found at most grocery stores in the Asian food dept. Use more or less to taste - it's pretty spicy!)
  • 1/2 head cabbage (shredded (or use a bag of coleslaw mix))
  • 1 cup pineapple (well drained and finely diced)
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce (I use as )
  • 1 handful cilantro, finely chopped (omit if you're a cilantro hater)
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 18-20 egg roll wrappers (my package contained 20 and I ended up with 18 rolls)
  • 1/4 cup peanut or canola oil (I used canola, but peanut is better for frying)

Directions

Filling
Step 1 Begin by slicing, dicing and mincing all veggies - and pineapple. Leave the wrappers in the fridge until you're ready to roll.
Step 2 Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame oil and allow to warm before adding the ground pork. Salt and pepper, then add the ginger and cook until the carrots become tender. Add green onions, garlic and a glug of soy sauce. When meat is cooked through, drain off any grease.
Step 3 Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls
Return to skillet and cook over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage and pineapple and another glug of soy sauce. Allow the cabbage to wilt down, stirring often. When cabbage is fully softened, add the Sriracha hot chili sauce and stir into the mixture. Add lime juice and cilantro and cook for another minute or two before removing from heat. Drain excess liquid from the pan, so the filling doesn't seep out of the egg rolls.
Rolls
Step 4 Preheat over to 425 and line two baking sheets with foil, then spray with cooking oil. Remove wrappers from the fridge and place the pile inside a lightly dampened dish towel, so they don't dry out. Remove one at a time as needed. Lay a piece of parchment or waxed paper on your work surface.
Step 5 Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls
Egg roll wrappers are delicate and don't have a lot of stretch to them, so be gentle when rolling. Aim for a fairly tight roll, but don't pull to too tight or it will tear.
Lay the wrapper out so that the corners are facing to the top and bottom and to the left and right, like a diamond. Place about two heaping tablespoons full of the filling mixture in the middle of the wrapper.
Step 6 Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls
Fold the sides inward, so they just touch.
Step 7 Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls
Fold the bottom corner up and gently tuck over and under the filling, then roll up. Use your finger to paint a little water on the flap to seal it. Place seam side down on the baking sheet.
Step 8 Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls
Bake for about 15-20 minutes until the shell is starting to crisp. Gently flip about halfway through. The pan on the lower level of my oven cooked faster, so I also switched them halfway through.
Step 9 During the last few minutes of baking, heat a medium saute pan over medium high heat. Add enough cooking oil to just cover the bottom of the pan - about 1/8 an inch.
Step 10 Sweet and Spicy Half-Baked Egg Rolls
Using tongs, carefully place a few baked egg rolls in the saute pan. They WILL burn VERY quickly! Turn every second or two until all sides are golden, then remove to drain on a plate lined with cloth or paper towels.
Step 11 Serve immediately with your favorite condiments, such as Asian dipping sauce, hot mustard or sweet chili sauce.

Notes

As mentioned above, feel free to play around with the filling ingredients and swap out the pork for other proteins, or just go vegetarian. You can also add more of the traditional egg roll ingredients such as water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, etc.

I tend to use both soy sauce and stir-fry sauce to flavor the filling, so use whatever you like.

We really enjoyed the filling even without the wrappers, so I can see us just eating that for dinner on a busy night when we don't have time for the whole wrapping phase.

These don't stay crunchy for long, so don't prepare ahead of time. 2-3 rolls are enough for an adult serving as they are pretty hearty.

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Mediterranean Lasagne Rolls

 

Mediterranean Lasagne Rolls marry the basic Italian lasagne roll concept with classic Mediterranean ingredients like spinach, artichokes, olives and feta cheese – along with a surprising veggie addition.

Mediterranean Lasagne Rolls

When I was cleaning out my kitchen shelves one day, I uncovered a sad box of lasagne noodles that had been hanging for who knows how long. I felt bad that I had obviously intended to make lasagne awhile back, but had forgotten all about it and thus forgotten those noodles. So I was inspired to bake a pan of lasagne for a nice winter meal, but I decided that I needed to conjure up a new spin on the old classic.

Like me, I’m sure you’ve seen the plethora of lasagne roll recipes on Pinterest. They’re cute aren’t they? I don’t know why, but we seem to gravitate to meals presented as a roll or muffin – maybe it appeals to our inner child who relishes the idea of self-contained mini-meals specially made for one. I decided to jump aboard the roll-up train and make my own version of lasagne rolls.

The Hubs loves pizza. Well…don’t we all? But we don’t all love the heavy, greasy toppings of the traditional carnivore-lovers pizza that is the Hubs’ preference. Somewhere along the way, I came up with a non-meat lovers pizza that he actually likes. My toppings are: onions, bell peppers, olives, mushrooms, chicken, artichokes and feta and Parmesan cheese with a pesto sauce (Why haven’t I shared that recipe here on Cooking Ripe! yet??). I figured the same ingredients would work just as well rolled up inside wide noodles as they do atop a crust, so BAM! there’s my inspiration for Mediterranean Lasagne Rolls. Nope, didn’t even find it on Pinterest – all mine!

Mediterranean Lasagne RollsThe results were really delish! Even better than I had expected, really. The tangy flavors from the artichokes and the feta along with the creamy ricotta and savory flavors of the sauce and Italian spices makes for a nice trip to flavor-town. One big change I made from the pizza to lasagne iteration is that instead of using chicken, I used…..ready?…….cauliflower! I don’t like it, but I know people say it “hides” well in recipes because it takes on other flavors, so I took a chance on it since I had some from Bountiful Baskets and sure nuff! I would NEVER have known it was there if I hadn’t made it myself. The Hubs was amazed at my magical voodoo skills.

Mediterranean Lasagne RollsThe rolling up process may be a little fussy for a busy weeknight, so feel free to create a basic layered lasagne instead of rolls, if you prefer. I ended up making 10 rolls – 6 in one baking dish and 4 in another, only because I didn’t know how many I would end up with when I started. The foursome is happily chilling in the freezer for another day’s dinner.

Mediterranean Lasagne RollsLike most of my recipes, ingredient amounts may not be exact or fussy and you should put your own twist on it by adding or deleting ingredients according to your own tastes. Let me know what you did to spin it by leaving a comment below.

Mediterranean Lasagne Rolls

Serves 10 rolls
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 50 minutes
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Gourmet, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Occasion Casual Party, Formal Party, Valentines day
Region Greek

Ingredients

  • 10-15 lasagne noodles (I used plain, but you could sub in whole wheat or other flavored noodles)
  • 2-4 drizzle extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cups califlower, finely diced (about half a head of cauliflower)
  • 2-3 tablespoons prepared pesto (divided)
  • 2-4 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 handfuls fresh baby spinach (if you use frozen, defrost, then squeeze most liquid from it)
  • 3/4 cups Sliced button mushrooms (I forgot to add the mushrooms when I made this!)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 4oz container of feta crumbles (2 Tablespoons reserved)
  • 1/2 jar marinated artichokes, lightly drained & finely chopped (1 Tablespoon of liquid marinade reserved)
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded (2 Tablespoons reserved; Please use the real thing, not the dry stuff in the green plastic jar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2.25oz can of black olives, sliced (or your favorite olive variety)
  • 24oz jar of marinara (Use your favorite sauce - I didn't have any homemade marina, so I had to use commercially canned sauce)

Optional

  • 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped

Directions

Step 1 Boil lasagne noodles in salted water with a little olive oil added until they are cooked just enough to be bendable. If you cook them too long, they will be mushy and fall apart when you roll them.
Drain and hold in colander until ready to roll.
Step 2 Mediterranean Lasagne Rolls
While the noodles are cooking, saute the onions, peppers, cauliflower in a pan drizzled with extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Salt and pepper lightly. After a few minutes, add about half of the prepared pesto and continue cooking until veggies are softened, but not mushy.
Step 3 Mediterranean Lasagne Rolls
Add spinach, mushrooms, garlic and basil to the saute pan and continue cooking over a low-medium heat. Do not allow the garlic to scorch or it becomes bitter tasting. Let the spinach really wilt down so the liquid is eliminated - or your rolls will be too watery.
Step 4 While veggies are sauteing, mix the egg, ricotta, feta, Parmesan, artichokes, spices, reserved artichoke marinade, the rest of the pesto and olives together in a medium sized bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Step 5 Mediterranean Lasagne Rolls
Add the veggie mixture to the cheese mixture and stir until completely combined
Step 6 Mediterranean Lasagne Rolls
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Spoon some sauce into a lightly greased 9x13" baking pan, so it just covers the bottom.
Working on a sheet of parchment or wax paper, lay out the noodles and spoon a couple of heaping spoons-full of the filling along the middle of each noodle. Stop the filling about 2 inches before one end of the noodle. Carefully roll up the noodle, starting at the filled end. The filling will squish to the end of the noodle as you roll it. Place seam side down into the pan.
Step 7 Mediterranean Lasagne Rolls
Once all rolls are complete, spoon the rest of the sauce over the rolls and top with reserved Parmesan. Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, then uncover and sprinkle rolls with parsley and reserved feta and continue baking, uncovered for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 3-5 minutes before serving so they won't fall apart.

Notes

The Hubs and I hotly debated the lack of meat in this recipe when I was planning it. He wanted me to add some Italian sausage or at least some diced chicken, but I wanted to see how it turned out as a vegetarian recipe. In the end, he said he didn't miss the meat (that secret cauliflower did the trick!), but you could certainly add your favorite protein to this dish. Just add it to the saute pan with the veggies in the beginning.

As I mentioned above, this a very freezable dish. Freeze before baking (whole pan or individual rolls), then defrost, pop in the oven or microwave and you have a super fast lunch or dinner on a hectic day. I think it would also work well to make the day before or early on party day, then hold in the fridge until you're ready to cook (increase cooking time due to the cold ingredients).

I would definitely make this one again - and I think it's definitely party-worthy! I encourage you to play around with the ingredients to suit your tastes - or your pantry's contents. I think a white pesto cream sauce would also be really great on these rolls, too. Mmmm....will have to try that, for sure!

Leave a comment and let me know how your rolls turn out.

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BAKED Chicken Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)

 

Baked taquitos are a much healthier option than their fried cousins – and they’re super easy to make for a quick weeknight meal.

Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)Who doesn’t love a taco and who doesn’t love a taquito, or rolled taco? Nobody I know! Too bad those deep-fried taquitos are so not good for us. I have learned to make a baked version that is actually Hubs approved! I think he even said he prefers them to the old-fashioned deep fried kind…or maybe I dreamed that… but he really does like these lighter taquitos.

The trick is using corn tortillas instead of flour because the corn are much lower in fat and calories (and if you use flour tortillas, you end up with flautas, not taquitos). The hard part about using corn tortillas is that they like to crack and fall apart when you roll them up. No worries! I have a solution that makes rolling them much more user-friendly.

Of course you can stuff your taquitos with anything you like: beef, chicken, pork, veggies, cheese, beans, etc., so whatever your favorite taco or taquito filling, roll it up in the corn torts and bake ‘em up!

I made a simple chicken taco filling by combining a couple of cups of cooked chicken (I cooked off a whole chicken in the crock-pot using this method) with some salsa (I think I used some of my preserved cherry tomatoes with green chiles), seasonings, diced onion and bell pepper in a skillet and cooking until the onions and peppers softened. Then I added some diced yellow squash and chopped cilantro and cooked a few more minutes, until the liquid was cooked down. Too much liquid will cause your tortillas to crack, so drain it off if you have too much.

Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)To make the corn tortillas pliable, begin by laying out about 6 on the torts on the foil covered baking sheet you will use to bake the taquitos. Then lightly spray both sides of each tortilla with cooking spray. I use canola or olive oil spray. If you don’t have cooking spray, you could very, very lightly brush the torts with some canola or olive oil instead – just keep it light.

Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)Next, stack up the torts and fold them up into a very lightly dampened light-weight kitchen towel. We’re going to steam them in the microwave, but we don’t want the towel to be sopping wet because the torts will turn to mush.

Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)Place the wrapped up tortillas in the microwave and cook for about 1.5 minutes. Very carefully unwrap the package as the steam will burn you as it’s released. Don’t leave the torts wrapped in the hot towel very long because they will get mushy. NOTE: if you like soft tacos, use the same method to steam the tortillas, then fill and eat immediately rather than baking them.

Spoon filling down the middle of a tortilla and carefully roll up and secure with a toothpick and place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the torts. I usually only steam about 6 tortillas at a time because I find that if I do more, the ones in the middle don’t get enough steaming – or they get cold before I can fill and roll them. So, repeat the steps above until you’ve used up all of your filling. My filling made about 18 taquitos. If your torts crack a lot, you probably need to cook them a little longer in the microwave as cooking temps may vary.

Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)You can give them another light spray of cooking oil, if you like. Bake the taquitos at 425 for about 15-20 minutes, until pretty crisp. If you want them to be really crispy, broil them for the last minute or so – just don’t leave them unattended or you’ll have chicken briquettes instead! Some of the tortillas may crack a little, but since they are crispy, they will hold their shape after they’re baked. Be sure to remove the toothpicks before you serve so you don’t spear anyone in the nose! :)

Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)Garnish with sour cream and/or guacamole and serve with your favorite salsa. Add a side of beans or Mexican rice, and you have a complete Mexican meal! Baked Taquitos

BAKED Chicken Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)

Serves 15-20 taquitos
Meal type Appetizer, Lunch, Main Dish, Snack
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable
Occasion Casual Party, Super Bowl
Region Mexican
Baked taquitos are much healthier than fried taquits and are fast and easy to put together for a weeknight meal or for a snack or party. Use any filling you like!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Cooked Chicken (shredded)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3/4 cups salsa
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning (or equal parts: chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano & onion powder)
  • 1 Small yellow squash, diced
  • 15-20 corn tortillas
  • cooking spray (olive oil or canola oil, preferable)

Optional

  • 1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped

Directions

Taquito Filling
Step 1 Combine chicken, onion, bell pepper, salsa and seasoning in a large skillet and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Step 2 Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)
Once onions and peppers have softened, add the squash and cilantro and cook about 5 minutes longer, until liquid has cooked down and squash is fork tender. Remove from heat.
Tortilla Prep
Step 3 Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Step 4 Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)
Stack tortillas up and wrap up in a lightly damp light-weight kitchen towel (or tea towel) and place in microwave. Cook for about 1.5 minutes
Assembly
Step 5 Baked Taquitos (Rolled Tacos)
Spoon filling down center of tortilla, then carefully roll up and secure with toothpick and place on baking sheet. Repeat until first set of six tortillas is filled, then steam the next 6 tortillas and repeat steps until all of the filling has been used.
Step 6 Bake at 425 degrees for about 15-20 minutes until tortillas are crispy. Broil for the last minute or two for extra crispy taquitos.
Step 7 Garnish with your favorite Mexican toppings, such as sour cream, guacamole or salsa.

Notes

As I mentioned above, the filling is really up to you to personalize. The possibilities are endless as to what you can put inside a taquito, so have fun being creative with different proteins and veggies. You can go carnivorous, vegan, vegetarian, too - whatever works for you and your family. The Hubs loves to make turkey taquitos with leftover Thanksgiving turkey every year, too.

I haven't ever had enough leftover to freeze, but I'm betting these will freeze well and can be reheated in the microwave. I do know that they make for a great leftover lunch the next day!

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